Earlier this month, we reported on Opower’s move to take on the big data coming off the consumer-facing smart grid.
On Monday the company announced that its platform, Opower 4, is officially live. The analytics engine, based on Cloudera’s Hadoop infrastructure, supports Opower’s core competency of delivering behavioral feedback to energy customers to help them be more efficient.
But it can do much more. In the past year, Opower has shifted from a utility favorite as an easy, light-touch customer engagement offering to an enterprise-level software platform, according to Alex Laskey, president of Opower. “Utilities see us as a way to get a more 360-degree view of their customers,” he said.
Opower, which is best known for mobile and mailed energy reports to customers, takes in about 90 billion meter reads a year from more than 75 utilities. The energy savings can sound miniscule; it’s about 2 percent across the 15 million households receiving its product, according to the company.
But that 2 percent is sustained over years, rather than merely representing an initial bump. But there are far more savings during peak times, said Laskey, about 20 percent to 30 percent, even without a thermostat. Those savings are possible because of Opower’s enterprise customer engagement platform, which customizes information using data from different utility platforms and crunches it with the thermal profile of individual homes, weather and historical usage.
Opower’s latest engine allows the firm to do four things for utilities: increase behavioral engagement, deliver better energy information to customers and utility workers, fine-tune retail and marketing offerings, and finally, provide home control.
The first step is what Opower has been doing all along. Delivering more tailored information to both customers and call centers can make calls more productive, because customer service agents have far more information at their fingertips to help resolve issues with angry customers.
The increased information is also key to the third point, offering more tailored retail and marketing. Like other companies in the space, Opower has started partnering with big-box stores. Opower might help a utility set up a program to offer 300,000 coupons to customers that seem most likely to use the offering for a more energy-efficient item. With individually barcoded coupons, Opower can then tell the utility who specifically actually used the coupons and determine who might benefit from more offerings.
Lastly, there is home control. Opower announced an agreement with Honeywell last year, although the relationship is still in its early days. Earlier this month, Ogi Kavazovic, Opower’s vice president of marketing and strategy, told Greentech Media that the company sees itself as the manager of a utility’s customer outreach program.
It’s not the only one: Aclara runs web portals for dozens of utilities; EcoFactor works with utilities and will be part of Comcast’s Xfinity offering starting in 2013; Tendril has various pilots and some large rollouts in the U.S. and abroad. Efficiency 2.0, which is like the RecycleBank of home energy management, was acquired by C3 earlier this year.
Opower is also working with a handful of utilities in other countries, including EDF in France, EnergyAustralia (owned by China Light & Power) and First Utility in the U.K.
Opower is still pulling in new customers, but for the first time, the majority of its revenue is coming from existing clients. “Now that we’re enterprise, we can help with other sticky problems,” said Laskey. Opower acknowledges that being the customer partner for utilities means always getting it right. “There’s zero tolerance for a mistake,” he said of issues such as issuing high bill alerts.
Going into 2013, Opower will help utilities, such as Baltimore Gas & Electric, manage peak time rebate programs. It will also integrate its Facebook offering directly into the utility web portals and continue working with Honeywell on a hardware offering, likely through utility channels.
“We’re driving customer participation in other programs,” Laskey said of Opower’s offerings. “But we’re also driving customer satisfaction.”